Literature Study GuidesThe DecameronFourth Day Second Story Summary

The Decameron | Study Guide

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron | Fourth Day, Second Story | Summary

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Summary

Pampinea narrates this story about the hypocrisy of the clergy. A wicked man named Berto della Massa from Imola moves to Venice, where people don't know of his reputation. He pretends to be a friar named Brother Alberto da Imola. He is such a good con man his priestly sermons beguile anyone who hears him. He is so trusted he often serves as the trustee of people's wills, looks after their money, and acts as their adviser.

A foolish woman named Madonna Lisetta da ca' Quirino comes to him for confession. When Brother Alberto asks whether she has a lover, she tells him she is too beautiful to take just anyone to bed. He ignores her words and plots how best to get her to sleep with him.

A few days later he goes to her home and apologizes for asking such a question. He tells her God has punished him by sending the angel Gabriel to beat him with a stick for daring to besmirch the woman he loves. She is impressed and believes him. Brother Alberto then tells her Gabriel wishes to visit her at night, but since he is an angel, he must do so in the body of a man. Lisetta agrees Brother Alberto should be the man Gabriel inhabits.

After making arrangements to meet that night, Brother Alberto disguises himself to appear more angelic, and visits Lisetta. She is so pleased with their evening together they make another appointment before he leaves. In the morning Lisetta visits Alberto to tell him everything that happened with Gabriel. He pretends to have no memory of the affair.

This continues until Lisetta tells a woman of what goes on between her and the angel Gabriel. The woman spreads the tale until everyone in Venice hears, including Lisetta's in-laws. They determine to find out the truth and watch Lisetta's bedroom for signs of Gabriel. When Brother Alberto appears, they are there and he must jump out of the window and into the canal to save himself.

Alberto is taken in by a man who hides him. After finding out who Alberto really is, the man asks for 50 ducats to keep his secret. The man then says he will help smuggle Alberto out of his house by leading him around dressed as a bear. Instead, the man covers him in honey and feathers, puts a chain around his neck and a mask over his face, and leads him to St. Mark's Square where he has sent his servant ahead to gather anybody who wants to see the angel Gabriel.

The man removes Alberto's mask and introduces him to the crowd as the angel. Everyone recognizes Alberto and they attack him until several other friars show up. The friars take Alberto back to the monastery and lock him in a cell where he eventually dies.

Analysis

Pampinea gives the reader another tale with numerous examples of deception and clever trickery. The first is Alberto who pretends to be a friar and eventually becomes a priest. Here is another instance of "don't believe everything the clergy says" because he uses his perceived holiness to hide his misdeeds. And yet for a time, all are satisfied.

Alberto deceives Lisetta with his tale of the angel Gabriel being in love with her. Lisetta's arrogant focus on her beauty makes her a target for a trick that will take her down a peg or two, and get Alberto the sexual gratification he is looking for. Again, the corrupt clergy trope. But his deception is up when Lisetta's pride gets the better of her, and she tells a neighbor about her trysts with the angel.

The final deception occurs when Alberto tries to escape Lisetta's angry in-laws. Instead of the help he is expecting to receive, he is chained and humiliated in St. Mark's Square. It is only through the intercession of his fellow brothers Alberto is able to escape back to the monastery.

Fortune plays a role in this too. Alberto is able to change his future through his deceit. He becomes a respected member of the Venetian clergy. But then the wheel of fortune spins and he is brought low when he abuses his office, only to be saved by his brethren.

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